Archive for August, 2007

Mount Fuji

August 22, 2007

I’m too busy doing stuff to write about any of it. I’d intended to finish my Tokyo post this weekend, but instead I climbed Mount Fuji. Not in my plans a week ago, but I grabbed the opportunity when it presented itself.

Fourteen of us made the climb; twelve JETs and two locals. Around noon on Saturday we took a bullet train to the town of Mishima, south of Mount Fuji, and then a bus to the mountain itself. The bus goes as far as the fifth station.

The stations, by the way, are way points and rest stops along the trail. There are ten stations, including the summit. They usually have a shack where you can buy expensive food and drinks, or pay about $50 for a spot on the mat for the night. The stations also have toilets, which, after the fifth station, cost about $2 to use. They’re heated though, which is very welcome, because although the temperature at the bottom of the mountain was in the 90s, it’s freezing on top. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

At 6pm, we arrived at the fifth station, situated at the tree line and usually above the clouds. We grabbed dinner at the only restaurant, a cafeteria-like affair which, in a astounding display of bad business sense, closes at 7. At 9pm, we started our hike up the mountain. Our goal was to watch the sunrise from the summit.

As it turned out, we were just in time. I think that some of us could have made the climb in four hours, but that would have left us freezing at the top with half the night to kill, so we took long rests at each station. I was afraid that we had gone too slowly and were going to be late though, as the last stretch of trail forced single-file climbing and the pace slowed to a crawl. The sky began to lighten while we were still inching along the trail, but at 4:30, we finally reached the summit, with half an hour left before the sun broke the horizon.

Fuji Early Dawn

I made my way to a promontory on the east side of the mountain and took in the show.

Fuji Dawn 1

Fuji Dawn 2

Fuji Dawn 3

An English speaking couple asked me to take their picture and then returned the favor.

Fuji Me

I just had my hood down for the picture, and my gloves were off only when I was taking pictures myself. The wind at the very top was viciously cold.

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My camera started acting strange at the peak. When I’d try to zoom in or out, it would auto-focus instead. I don’t think the problem was altitude per se, since at 3,776m (12,388ft), Fuji isn’t that high. Ah, now that I look into it, my camera has an operational temperature range of 0-40 (32-104), so that’s that. Anyway, I wasn’t able to take as many pictures as I might have liked, but then I suppose there isn’t much to see beyond rocks and clouds in any case.

The top isn’t entirely empty, though. There is a shrine and a post office.

Fuji Shrine

The post office is there solely for the novelty of sending letters from the highest point in the country. The shrine presumably enshrines the kami of the mountain. It also has the final stamp for walking sticks.

Fuji Walkingstick

Walking sticks are sold at the fifth station. At each station and substation along the trail you can have your walking stick branded, and at the top you can get it stamped. A stamp isn’t as cool as a brand, but it’s much faster to apply, and there’s a line as it is. They apply it by hitting a metal stamp with a hammer, which gives a satisfying clank to mark the completion of your ascent.

Then it’s back down the mountain.

Fuji Descent

I headed down at about 6am, hurrying to catch the 9am bus, since the next one doesn’t come until 12:30. Even as rushed as I was, it was nice to actually see my surroundings.

Fuji Redrock

Going down was much faster than going up, although I had to use my walking stick a lot more. Speaking of which, I stopped to get the brands along the way, since they were unavailable at night. I kept an anxious eye on my watch the whole time, but I reached the 5th station with twenty minutes to spare.

Fuji Treeline

It was exhausting, but a great experience.

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